Two years ago I was booked urgently for stents because of intractable angina. I couldn't even straighten the sheets on my bed without chest pain. The day of the surgery I was booked as a late add-on and the pianist stopped at McDonalds on the way to the hospital. I was sitting in the car waiting for her to bring us coffee as it was early and I could drink it well before my procedure which was still iffy as I faced the fact that I could be bumped. I hadn't noticed that my friend Dion, a guitarist and singer and church friend was parked next to us and getting out of the car with his instrument. He had no idea where I was going and what I was facing but I guess he thought I might have looked morose or reflective and needed a lift. Standing in the parking lot he opened my door and started with You are My Sunshine and then to top it off Micheal Row the boat Ashore. What a good break for me to hear that and feel that, out of the blue, on the way to the hospital, by way of McDonalds. A lesson in how to never waste the opportunity to give out a little love to someone when you recognize the urging you have received by the spirit within. Micheal rowing across the Jordan is a black spiritual song reminiscent of the allegorical paradise when arriving at the shore of the promised land. I'm not sure Dion figured out all the theology he engaged, but that gets figured out for us when we listen carefully and he sure did that day when I thought the odd chance was I would get to the other side.
It's May the 21st and the rough places on Lotus Island abound with the glory of the plants of Mother Nature that have spread their bloom for all to see. This early summer and the heat have brought out the best of these tough plants that survive and thrive, seeding themselves, demanding little that their tender cousins require from us all. And they grow best in the rough places where they fill the area with color and fill the heart with awe. The Hawthorns, white and pink and red fill the high hedgerows as we drive along, in full bloom today, a stupendous amount of bloom and creating an abundance of haws that will self seed in the rough area. The Spanish Broom, vividly yellow, not limpidly yellow, abounds on the banks in the rough of the roadways and high places bordering the rough valleys, crowding together, a panorama of yellow. The Rosa vulgaris filling the low hedgerows in the rough places and against the rough fences,spectacular punctate pink as we travel the roads, always providing the simple sided of Nature's rose and not ever needy as its cousins. And the California Poppies littering the low banks grey and orange as they provide a splash of color against the green of the grass background they join. What a pleasure and it's free; no chore watering, planting, fertilizing, pruning,layering,tying up. Mother Nature does it all for us and she chooses the rough spots. It's a gift. Tough plants for tough spots that belong. And we can look forward if we are patient for the Himalayan Blackberries in the rough spots in the fall to join these May the 21st plants blooming that Nature has freely provided.
Sunday last was Shepard Sunday. I go to church with the pianist early since she sings in the choir and they practise for half an hour before the service. Since I am there before almost anyone else, I have time to read the lessons for that day beforehand and think about them and watch the church gradually fill up with what can be called the Body. Since I sit on the side isle near the front I can see virtually all of the members of the fold gathering into the seats, whereas sitting in the center seats means you only see the back of everyone's head. I can see the lectionary and alter as well as anyone else but the body for me is the important thing as well.
In the practice of Medicine for forty some years I had the experience of being a member of the Body. That sense of union was equally strong and the commitment was alive. Last week the pianist and I went to the Annual Dinner of the Victoria Medical Society and despite being retired for seventeen years I felt an integral part of that Body and could pass the peace with untold numbers of the many. Of course it did not accord reliance to a Shepard but it had the qualities of service and mercy that I knew so well in the olden days.
Watching a Body file in and fill up in the fold and not stuck with the back of their heads of one another and passing the peace is another joy of age. Belonging!
Balm, Dictionary.com definition # 3/ Something comforting and soothing. Example, soft music is a balm.
If one looks for a definition of the balm of Gilead aside from questionable unguents and speculative associations that have little or no biblical relevance as far as I can see, though they are comforting, the evidence is thin.We don't know who composed the gospel song, a black spiritual, but the root may be Genesis 31.
However, despite unmentioned anywhere else, all that I can find is Genesis 31. It is the story of Jacob and Laban. Jacob goes to the land of his mother's brother to find a wife. He falls for Rachel the younger but is given the elder Leah and for that must work for seven years for Laban. Then he is given Rachel for seven more years of work and a further six years piled on. Jacob has had enough and removes his wives and children and flocks and surreptitiously escapes to the hill country of Gilead across the Euphrates hotly pursued by Laban.
Things look bad but Jacob has obeyed God in this move, and moreover God has also appeared to Laban and cautioned him about no nonsense. They meet in the hill country of Gilead and know that they are kinsmen. Together they build a heap of stones they name Gileed. They build together a pillar they name Mizpah which means watch point. These symbols are a witness. Anger is comforted and soothed Laban kisses his daughters and grandchildren and leaves to his side of the pillar and the Gileed. Jacob goes on to his life with his wives and children and flocks.
This may be the balm of Gilead. This Easter Day It could be a balm for the troubles around the world.
Genesis 3 19
It's a bit gloomy but reality. "--you are dust and to dust you shall return." Of course it is the stunning insight to realize that we are not "in nature", dropped in as Genesis implies, to dominate, but "of nature", composed of the same atoms and molecules as everything else, so to arise from the earth and return to it is food for thought as we celebrate Ash Wednesday and contemplate our life between the dust of creation and the dust of reunion.That assertion of Genesis 3 no atheist could argue about.
Last night I dreamt I was in a bar in Toronto with the pianist. I was served a poorly dressed pizza by a server dressed scanty.The pizza had a thin brush of something resembling cheese with a single tomato on tpp. She offered to speak to my psychiatrist and to my realtor for two sawbucks. I had to eat the pizza by hand and no serviette was offered. If I try to think of my life in between the dusts the glare of this metropolitan nonsense gives no immediate clue. Carl Jung where are you?
I was out of my element.Toronto is a transit for me. It was hard to reconcile "in nature" and contemplation with my preparation for Ash Wednesday and the joy of my life between the dusts when I drew my being from the earth and joined the tree, the pansy, and the feathered and furry friends and mankind of every ilk as a part of earth. It is enough for now. If there is more my curiosity is peaked to wait and see. Oil and ash and a crucifix on my forehead gives me hope, but Genesis still implies the reality, "of nature".
The Valley of Jezreel
Some time around 1980 the pianist and I were atop of Mount Tabor, which tradition identifies as the Mount of The Transfiguration. We looked down the steep slope to the south at the Valley of Jezreel and beyond to the cotton fields of the Galilee. The valley floor was the road of the Babylonian army to Egypt and the Egyptians to Babylon. It was the road for the Greek and later Roman armies and eventually the Arab and Turkish armies and even later the British and German armies. It is a famous road and in the way of these destructive forces was Israel and the city of Megiddo, sitting dab-smack in the middle of the valley. It was destroyed, rebuilt , sacked and destroyed many times but is now as we observed a deep and testamentary excavation of the horror of war. The name of the city has given rise to the term "Armagiddon", As Jesus and his friends descended the north slope to go to his trial and death after his transfiguration he knew he was facing his own armagiddon. It's hard to stand atop that kind of mountain, look at that kind of valley, think of that sort of city, that man knowing the doom he faced and moving towards it, and not be touched by one's history of death. This week is Ash Wednesday when we receive our ashes.
The Elemental Haiku
The table of elements offered as source begs their use. I couldn't resist. My thesis at UBC in 1960 included measurments of the measured exchange of extracellular space Na driven into the intracellular space and the measured of the intracellular space K driven into the extracellular space in response to a hypertensive agent driver. The totals calculated from the measured inulin space in two Labrador Retrievers. An experiment to assess the relationship of hypertension and the exchange of elements through the cellular barrier. It was a full year experiment. The Haiku is as follows:
Na and K exchange a place
Intracellular and extracellular space
With injection of a hypertensive trace.
I'm sure the thesis could still be found in the Dept. of Anatomy under a pound of dust.
The fourth R.
There was a time when the three R's were taught in the schools. Reading, Riting and Rithmatic. That technology has replaced these no longer useful skills for anyone under fifty has led to the loss of critical thinking skills by the substitution of the fourth R that has appeared in spades, and that is Reductionism. In the evolution of communication methods of mankind, we went from a primitive oral society to the written, a visual society to a cognitive society. We have, from technology of today, returned to the primitive oral and visual society. A reductionist society reduces the complex to a simpler form, often oral and visual and governed by the casuistry one sees in advertising, politics and activist claims. "I'm really busy" ,they that look and listen say. ,"Give me a summary, or opinion, nothing to read in full. A talking head on a video is good." I have to confess I am guilty too and it's laziness on my part. Intellectual laziness. It's not that I don't read or write or calculate numbers but laziness has led me to read the first and last paragraph of a long article. That's caving in to reductionism and i'm not busy. Maybe I am becoming primitive as well as the under fifties.
Yesterday we had a workshop on story telling. It appeared to me that I was the most curmudgeonly attendant there. The workshop was conducted by an Episcopal priest who is a professional story teller. Her stories were allegorical but not scriptural. The sort of story telling that scripture utilizes are simple allegorical stories that tell us something about ourselves if we identify with the stories and the characters within them. It can be creative, and constructive. Half of the people at the workshop were Anglicans and half were not church people but were interested in this sort of story telling. The priest may have specifically avoided scriptural tales in view of the participants. The act of relating to one another through listening to allegorical tales, reacting to the characters in the stories in the various ways that one does, and vicariously to one another as a result, produces an interesting and valuable insight about how one thinks about oneself and the tangible and intangible reality you think you know. Whether fable or parable, allegory or metaphor we can delve into a head space ourselves or learn from others. Of course whether we were church goers or not, there was no discernible difference in the responses. And yet when I look at the liturgy on any Sunday, the readings of scripture, the hymns, the psalms sung, even the prayers have significant elements of allegory. What that does is allow in interpretation a respect to the diversity amongst us. Our God-given right to be ourselves in all things of the spirit and to follow where that will lead in charity and harmony, even the curmudgeonly.
For Jim's past posts, check out his old blog here: